(By Our Rome Correspondent)
The speedy rise to power of the Fascist movement with its strongly emphasized nationalistic character, created at the very outset a feeling of uncertainty on the part of Italian Jewry. The Jews of Italy were perplexed, wondering what would be the attitude of Fascism toward them.
It is easy to understand the cause for this uncertainty when it is remembered that the march of the “Black Shirts” was directed against the liberal regime and that on the other hand the Jews had always been actively in the forefront of the Italian Liberal movement. It was due to the Risorjimento that the Jews were liberated from the Ghetto of the Popes and that they received, in the second half of the last century, civil and political equality in Italy.
The liberal principles of the Italian Government naturally led the Jews to active participation in the liberal movements of the country. Luigi Luzzatti and Sidney Sonnino, two of the outstanding figures in the country’s political life, were for many years conspicuous representatives of the liberal regime, while many other Jewish statesmen, scholars and public leaders were outspoken champions of the Italian liberal idea. It is no wonder, then, that Italian Jewry felt itself morally and spiritually bound to the political system which Fascism was out to destroy.
AFTER FIVE YEARS OF FASCISM
The uneasiness of the Italian Jews following Mussolini’s successful march on Rome in the last days of October, 1922 was quite understandable. Now, after more than five years of Fascist rule, we can judge how far this feeling of uneasiness was justified and whether or not the clear horizon of complete civil, moral and political equality for Jews has been darkened by any threatening clouds.
In order to answer this question, and in general to appraise the present condition of Italian Jewry, two facts must be considered: first, the very small size of the Jewish population in the country and secondly, their considerable assimilation.
The Jews in Italy number 60,000, in a population of 42,000,000 and they are, moreover, scattered all over the land, so that they are an insignificant minority everywhere, with the possible exception of Rome, which has the largest Kehillah, numbering 13,000 members.
The assimilation process has wiped out almost every trace of differentiation between the Jew and the non-Jew in Italy. This process has been accelerated through an ever-growing number of intermarriages. As for anti-Semitism, Italians have no conception of it. The Jews were always respected under the liberal regime and their marvelous manifestation of patriotism during the War brought them into even higher esteem in the eyes of the nation.
When Mussolini came into power, he at once realized the great asset the Jews constituted in the realms of culture, finance and politics and he exerted every effort not to antagonize the Jews. In the course of the interview between Mussolini and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Professor Sacherdatti, which took place at that time, Mussolini declared, “Fascism has to contend with too many problems to desire to create more. For us Fascists there can be no antagonism to Jews.”
Sporadic efforts to transplant anti-Semitism to Italy were made at the instigation of the German Hakenkreuzler and the Hungarian Awakening Magyars, as well as followers of the notorious Professor Cuza. But none of these efforts succeeded. A certain Prezioti, a fanatical nationalist, even attempted to organize a sort of anti-Semitic league and translated into Italian the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but this man’s activities were soon brought to an end through the personal intervention of Mussolini.
NOTED JEWS AMONG MUSSOLINI’S ADVISERS
Of course the friendly attitude of the government to the Jews is due to some extent to the fact that a number of leading Jewish figures are close to Mussolini as his adherents and advisers. Among these must be mentioned especially a woman named Sarfatti, who founded the Fascist periodical “Jerarchia”; Olivetti, the president of the Society of Italian Industrialists, and Prof. Arcas, the economic theoretician and adviser of the Fascist government.
It cannot be denied that during the first few years there have frequently appeared in the Fascist press anti-Semitic attacks, sometimes in no mild form. Such attacks were particularly bitter in the “Tribuna” of Rome, organ of the former nationalists, who have fused themselves with Fascism. This paper followed the method practiced by the anti-Semitic press of Central Europe, holding the Jews responsible for all economic and political evils in the country. After the attempt on Mussolini’s life, the “Tribuna” immediately alleged that Jewish financiers who were opposed to the Premier were in back of the act.
It is interesting to note that the official organ of the government and of the Fascist party, “Popolo d’Italia,” which is edited by Mussolini’s brother, never for a moment permitted any anti-Jewish outbursts in its columns. When Dr. Weizmann visited Rome some time ago the paper published an interview with him, written in a very friendly spirit towards Zionism.
It is clear, therefore, that Fascism, although it has in every respect strengthened the extreme nationalistic spirit in Italy and the influence of Catholicism, has, nevertheless, given the Jews no cause to feel ill at ease. There has been no such thing as official anti-Semitism in Italy. The only ground for uneasiness is to be found in the occasional attacks in a certain part of the Fascist press, but it is certain that the influence of this part of the press cannot be lasting or effective.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.